I wish to begin by agreeing with the last part of Ms Patten’s contribution — that is, I believe that this issue is primarily a health issue. But what we have before us tonight is a series of amendments that actually deal with crime. If we only focus on law and order, then we are not dealing with the issue, and I think Acting President Ramsay, as chair of the joint parliamentary committee that he ably led, found that there is a necessary balance between making sure that there are rights of the individual, the health issue, the issue as it affects families and the issue as it affects communities, while also making sure that there is criminality around the supply of addictive drugs. Getting that balance right and having a plan that joins those elements is absolutely critical if we are going to get on top of this issue.
Whilst I have a very personal interest in this issue, and whilst I am particularly interested in how the health issues of drug addicts can be fully appreciated and dealt with, and how families who have drug addicts among their members can be supported. I am also pragmatic enough to know that we need to deal with the criminal element that comes into this issue. That is what we have got here tonight, and it is about the offences and the criminality associated with the activity around drugs. Specifically what is before us tonight is the delivery of part of our election commitment to tackle the growing problem of crystal methamphetamine, commonly referred to as ice. In particular it seeks to keep our kids safe from this insidious drug by creating new offences around supplying and trafficking in and near premises.
Whilst I do take on some of the points that Ms Patten talked about in terms of some of the statistics, the reality is that children around schools do not necessarily buy drugs. But people who want to get children hooked do hang around schools, and they do groom them, and they provide tasters. This is an attempt to stamp that out. The offences in themselves will not stamp it out; they need to be backed up with really good community programs, and local policing needs to be worked in with the community aspects around schools.
We know that there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of ice usage in our community, and this of course has also meant that there has been an increase in property crime and an increase in violence. It has left many Victorians fearful and made life incredibly difficult for our hardworking emergency services and health professionals. And I know in the last couple of months in Western Victoria Region alone there have been some really frightening incidents that have occurred. There are shortages in available treatment beds and rehabilitation facilities. Families are being torn apart, and families are spending their savings trying to help their sons and daughters who are in the throes of ice.
In his introduction to the Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) 2015 report on the national methamphetamine market, the CEO Chris Dawson stated:
The availability and addictive nature of methamphetamine has created a new demand in urban, rural and disadvantaged communities where its destructive impact is growing at a significant rate.
Serious and organised crime groups are thriving on the profits generated through methamphetamine.
There have been significant changes in the nature of the methamphetamine market since 2010. There has been a shift from the powdered form, commonly referred to as speed, to the crystalline form, now called ice. Another issue noted in the ACC report is that efforts to decrease ice production are complicated by the fact that a number of precursor chemicals and common medications, such as cold and flu treatments, have a range of legitimate uses, with crime groups instead diverting them to the illicit market.
This bill makes the possession and publication of instructions for manufacturing illicit drugs, which often incorporate these precursor chemicals, an offence. Given that we know that in some cases these groups have used violence to compel individuals, such as users with drug debts, to traffic drugs for them, it also creates a new offence of using threats to intentionally compel someone to traffic. Separately it also targets the production of drugs by making it an offence for someone to knowingly allow their property to be used to produce drugs.
This bill delivers on the government’s election commitment, we believe, to assist in keeping our children safer from drugs. We also recognise that legislation alone is just part of the picture when it comes to tackling the impact of drugs in Victoria — that is why we did establish the $45.5 million Ice Action Plan. Labor has committed money to deliver training, available both face to face and online, to front-line workers, including those working in health and human services, education and law enforcement, and other industries that have the potential to come into contact with ice-affected individuals. This training will better equip them with the skills to identify and assist individuals under the influence of ice to better protect the safety of themselves and others.
This government is also investing in clinical supervision for mental health workers by providing additional training for supervisors and by helping service providers ensure that they have frameworks in place for managing drug-affected patients. Both of these measures will serve to complement this government’s $20 million Health Service Violence Prevention Fund, aimed at preventing violence in our hospitals. I know that the joint parliamentary inquiry that looked at that did go into the hospitals and certainly found that this was an issue being faced by health professionals. There is also $4.7 million to assist families in identifying and managing ice issues and helping them deal with the strains and stress that can come with a family member tragically becoming addicted to ice. In addition we know treatment services and facilities are already stretched, so we have invested $18 million in expanding drug treatment and rehabilitation services and facilities and in creating an ice helpline. We are also spending $4.5 million to crack down on people who manufacture ice in clandestine laboratories and sell it to our sons and our daughters.
We are also investing $15 million in new drug and booze buses, because we know illicit drugs have now overtaken alcohol as the most commonly detected substance in the bloodstreams of those involved in fatal accidents. As we work ‘Towards Zero’ and to eliminating the road toll, it is simply unacceptable that as many as 32 per cent of those involved in fatal accidents on our roads are drug affected and that amphetamine users are six times more likely to experience a crash because of aggression and poor judgement. We are also providing money to community groups to help educate and inform young Victorians about the use of ice, and of course we are investing $1 billion into the Back to Work initiatives and other initiatives to assist in tackling youth unemployment. We know that young Victorians do have hope, desire and dignity, and that they want that which is often brought about as a result of being able to go to work, which breaks that cycle of boredom and hopelessness. Of course all these measures can only work if we keep ice off our streets and away from our children.
The bill essentially is attempting to do that, and this is just one example of what we are attempting to do in this space. What we have before us tonight is a bill that amends the act and creates seven new offences. A number of speakers have spoken at length in relation to that. The first three pertain to the supply of drugs in and around schools, specifically trafficking at or around a school, trafficking to a child at or around a school and supplying a child at or near a school. It makes it an offence to use violence or threats to intentionally compel trafficking. It also makes possessing instructions for manufacturing or cultivating illicit drugs without reasonable excuse an offence, as well as publishing instructions for trafficking or cultivating illicit drugs without reasonable excuse and with intent, knowledge or recklessness.
Finally it creates an offence for intentionally permitting the use of premises for trafficking or cultivation. The bill also, as a consequence, amends the Confiscation Act 1997 to include these offences, which may trigger the seizure of proceeds of crime, and the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to codify offences for compelling trafficking via threats or violence and permitting premises to be used for trafficking or cultivation offences, for which public housing tenants can be given notice. We know the negative impact that drugs such as ice have. We know that all around Victoria, whether it is in the city or in the smallest of rural communities, few areas are spared their ill effects. We know from the report released by the Sentencing Advisory Council that ice was the most commonly trafficked drug in Victoria in the past five years. We know that in the last year 90 000 Victorians used some form of methamphetamines — and we must do everything possible to curb this.
In my own electorate, in the communities of Geelong, Colac and others, we have seen support services stretched to their limits by the increase in people seeking support and services in relation to their addiction. We have seen more violence on our streets, more emergency room doctors who have to deal with patients who are both unwell and drug affected, and more police dealing with offenders who are irrational and sometimes uncontrollable. We cannot stand by. We cannot allow this situation to continue. Communities right across the state and in fact right across this country are being torn apart, and this bill is an important part — just a part, but an important part — of our attempt to combat this drug called ice. I commend this bill to the house.